Proceed with Caution: Back in Schools, but Will it Stay that Way?
On Tuesday, the bulk of Santa Barbara County snapped “first day” photos for Facebook and returned to the gnarly drop-off lines at area schools — but the cloud of uncertainty surrounding the longevity of in-person instruction remains.
With the COVID-19 Delta variant creating disruption at hospitals around the state, local school districts are having to put plans on the table that will allow them to adjust to virtual school, if necessary.
But, for now, “back to school” is a physical move, and one that has already created some buzz, as the Santa Barbara Unified School District passed a resolution that is requiring staff members to be vaccinated or get tested at least once per week.
According to a recent ParentSquare message sent by SBUSD on Friday, “89% of our teachers and other certificated staff have provided verification of their vaccination against COVID.” This is getting closer to both Montecito Union School and the Cold Spring School districts, with both indicating that 98% of staff have been vaccinated, and they have no intention of mandating vaccines.
All three have committed to mask-wearing indoors, while encouraging outside instruction where possible.
Here is a look at a handful of key questions as each district cautiously begins their school years, with SBUSD responses coming via its website, while Superintendent Anthony Ranii spoke on behalf of MUS and Superintendent Amy Alzina for Cold Spring:
How is student health monitored in an organized way?
SBUSD: Signage is posted at the entrance to each school instructing individuals who are sick or who have had close contact with a COVID-19 positive individual to not enter the building. They will be instructed to call the campus office where someone will assist them. Daily symptom screening processes will continue for students and staff. The tools utilized during these screenings instruct those who have been in contact with an infected individual and/or are exhibiting symptoms themselves to stay home and consult a medical professional. In addition, the district told parents that “we will do a baseline COVID test of all students in the first two to three weeks of the school year. We will use the data from this baseline testing to identify rates of COVID and to help us determine the frequency of testing needed moving forward.”
MUS: “Parents will be asked to do a health check before arriving at school each day.”
CS: “We are continuing with the same protocols as last year by asking parents to be our partners and checking temp and symptoms daily.”
What will the protocols be if a student tests positive or is exposed?
SBUSD: The district will utilize the Standard School Entry Method through the use of the SafetyiPass electronic screening and validation process that asks parents and staff members to respond to questions related to exposure to and symptoms of COVID-19.
Students and staff will not be allowed to enter campus unless iPass deems them eligible for an electronic “entry” badge. District and school staff will utilize Safety iPass to document/track incidents of possible exposure. Those who do not complete iPass before coming to campus or a district office will be required to engage in a screening protocol before going into the work site.
All school sites and the district office have identified an isolation room to separate anyone who exhibits symptoms of COVID-19. Any student or staff exhibiting symptoms will immediately be required to wear a face covering and to wait in an isolation area until they can be transported home or to a healthcare facility.
Each school site and the district office has established procedures to arrange for safe transport home or to a healthcare facility, as appropriate, when an individual is exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms. If a student, staff member, or visitor experiences a medical emergency related to COVID-19, 911 will be called immediately. A COVID-19 test will be offered to staff and students who exhibit symptoms while on campus.
Sick staff members and students will be advised not to return until they have met Santa Barbara County Public Health Department criteria to discontinue home isolation.
MUS: The school has organized students into three tiers:
Vaccinated, regardless of face covering: If vaccinated, there is no quarantine mandate, unless symptoms develop. If they do, quarantine is needed while the student takes a COVID test. If positive, student must isolate 10 days from symptom onset. Contact tracing goes back two days from symptom onset.
Unvaccinated, wearing face covering: The student can attend school with face covering if no symptoms, but would be excluded from sports, extracurricular and school activities. Student would be tested twice weekly during the 10 days following exposure. If a positive test occurs or symptoms arise, student must isolate for 10 days from symptom onset. Contact tracing goes back two days from symptom onset.
Unvaccinated, not wearing face covering: The student must quarantine (excluded from school) for 10 days from exposure date. If student tests negative after fifth day from exposure, they may be released from quarantine after the seventh day. If asymptomatic and no test is completed, the student’s release from quarantine is after day 10. Self-monitoring for symptoms through day 14 is required, as is wearing a face covering, washing hands, and avoiding crowds.
CS: If a student becomes ill at school, they “should be immediately separated from all students and isolated in an area away from students and staff paths of travel.” The teacher will phone the office and the student will be escorted to a pick-up area, where they can be transported home or to a medical facility. The students, and any siblings, cannot return until they have been seen and cleared by a healthcare professional, and have met SBCPHD criteria to discontinue home isolation.
What will the protocols be if a staff member tests positive or is exposed?
SBUSD: It will utilize the same strategy as seen above with students.
MUS: The schools have simplified its approach with staffers, with just two categories:
Vaccinated, regardless of face covering: No quarantine unless symptoms develop and if they do, teacher must quarantine and get tested. A COVID-19 test is recommended again after fifth day. If there is a positive test, teacher must isolate for 10 days from test date or symptom onset. Contact tracing goes back two days from symptom onset.
Unvaccinated, regardless of face covering: The teacher must quarantine for 10 days from day of exposure, self-monitoring for symptoms during that time. A COVID test is recommended after fifth day, with a positive test resulting in isolation for 10 days from test date or symptom onset. Contact tracing goes back two days from symptom onset.
CS: The staff member is obligated to report their symptoms to the Superintendent immediately, with a list of all occupied areas during the illness, as well as students or staffers they’ve encountered. The staff member will self-isolate, immediately leave the school, and submit to a COVID test. The staffer must avoid contact with a student or staffer until the test result is received. If the test is positive, the Superintendent will connect with SBCPHD and follow county-guided protocols. The staff member must be cleared by a healthcare professional before returning to school.
Is there an operational plan in place to go full-time virtual if there is an outbreak?
SBUSD: When a student, teacher, or staff member tests positive for COVID-19 and has exposed others at the school, the district will implement the following steps:
— The local public health department will advise the principal and the Superintendent’s Covid Task Force, who will decide whether school closure is warranted, including the length of time necessary, based on the risk level within the specific community as determined by the Santa Barbara Public Health Department.
— Standard guidance will be given for isolation at home after close contact, for those in the classroom or office where the patient was based. These spaces will typically need to close temporarily as students or staff isolate. Distance learning may be implemented if classes are closed.
— Additional close contacts at school outside of a classroom will also be given direction to quarantine at home.
— Additional areas of the school visited by the COVID-19 positive individual may also need to be closed temporarily.
— Communication plans for school closure — and subsequent reopening — will include outreach to students, parents, teachers, staff, and the community.
MUS: “We have plans to quickly move to online school, if needed, but we are prioritizing in-person instruction. We will follow all quarantine rules and directions from the county.”
CS: Any potential classroom or school closures will be guided by the SBCPHD, although the Superintendent does have “sole discretion” to close either one, potentially resulting in remote learning.
How are classrooms cleaned, and is it done daily?
SBUSD: Classrooms and other campus spaces will generally be cleaned once a day, as this usually meets the requirements for removing potential viruses that may be on surfaces. This includes frequently touched surfaces such as light switches, sink handles, restroom surfaces, student desks, chairs, and tables.
MUS: Classrooms are cleaned at least once per day, and if there is evidence of COVID, “we use electrostatic sprayers to disinfect.” There are also hand-washing stations throughout campus, as well as hand sanitizer in classrooms and outdoor lunch areas, as well as PPE (masks, face shields) if needed.
CS: Custodial staff will perform environmental cleaning following CDC guidelines. This shall include routinely cleaning all frequently touched surfaces in accordance with the instructions provided on labels of cleaning agents.